Saturday, April 23, 2011

Youngsters growing up

Notice anything missing?
Our girl lost her first tooth this morning after a few weeks of watching it become progressively more loose. For her part, she helped it along by nearly constantly wiggling it.
It's got a date with the tooth fairy.
We have some other youngsters in our household who are also growing up. This year's first crop of house finches are maturing and will probably be old enough to leave the nest in a couple of weeks. We've had a string of house finch families living on our back porch each spring for the past five years.
Four baby finches is probably our biggest brood yet.
If you're wondering whether this will be an entry without bike content, wonder no more. Last night people came together to celebrate another young thing that is growing up at the Denver B-cycle one year anniversary party.
Julie arriving in style via Denver B-cycle number 333.
The 15th and Delgany B-station was quite popular because of proximity to the MCA.
Bike dignitaries from around the city converged on the Museum of Contemporary Art last night. Mayor Vidal, Dr. Eric France of Kaiser Permanente, Bob Burns of B-cycle, Adam Lerner of MCA and others led the festivities. They congratulated the operators of Denver B-cycle, the people of the city, and visitors who have used the system on a successful first year and a promising future.
Mayor Vidal

Friday, April 22, 2011

365 days

Somehow I seem to encounter Denver B-cycle number 365 more frequently than many of the others. Yes, I do keep track of the number on the bikes I ride, mostly.
A year ago today, Denver B-cycle was opened to the public. A lot has happened since then, with thousands of people logging many thousands of miles on the trusty red bikes. After enduring a cold and rainy start, bike sharing became a part of the urban landscape of Denver. Stations popped up in a number of locations around town and as people started using and seeing the bikes, the whole thing became a topic of conversation. The system even began to permeate the social fabric of the city and beyond. Most notably, Denver B-cycle played a role, albeit unrequested and passive on its own part, in the 2010 Colorado gubernatorial campaign. Over the course of the year, seeing B-cycles on the streets of Denver has become commonplace, and is perhaps even becoming iconic of the city itself.
Me with a Denver B-cycle on opening day. This photo was taken around the same time as this.
A year ago, this blog hadn't yet come into existence. Although anything recorded here doesn't amount to more than an insignificant footnote in the grand scheme of things, it does offer a place to reflect on the nature of time and the changes integral to its passage. Some of these changes occurred in the lives of the people celebrating the launch of Denver B-cycle in the photo below. Over this past year, one became mayor of Denver, another is running for mayor, and another is no longer with us.
Guillermo Vidal (center) is now mayor, Doug Linkhart (right) is currently running for mayor, and Carla Madison (in pink helmet) recently passed away.
The biggest change for me in the past 365 days occurred a month ago, in having to say goodbye to Heidi, my ever faithful friend. Many who know me through bikes might not have known my dog, as her running range hadn't been compatible with bike riding for years, and although we tried once or twice, she wasn't a fan of riding in a trailer. Nevertheless, she was closer to me than most people I've ever known. For more than 11 years, nearly every sandwich I ate, we shared together. The Denver Dumb Friends League estimated her to be a year and a half old when she showed up on October 22, 1999, so we always celebrated her birthday on April 22, Earth Day. This was fitting for a happy and gentle dog who greeted everyone with a lick and a wag, and who was always eager to explore the outdoors. In appreciation of Heidi, I'm off to enjoy the day.
Sharing smiles.
Cool grass after a good walk.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Big Dummy-ifyed roof rack

D'oh! A super-sized Big Dummy versus normal sized rack tray.
In the two and a half years that I've had my Big Dummy, I've only hauled it somewhere in a vehicle a few times. When hauling was necessary, I was able to put it in the bed of my old pickup with little difficulty. Now that I no longer have a pickup, it was necessary to figure out how to load the Dummy onto a roof rack. The photo above illustrates the sad situation of when a longtail bike encounters a standard rack tray.

Commercially available long rack trays exist, which are made for long wheelbase recumbents, tandems and other freakishly long bikes. However, for me they have some serious drawbacks: A) They cost considerably more than standard rack trays. B) They are not typically stocked at bike shops. C) Most importantly, I don't already own one. However, I'm too stubborn to let these drawbacks hinder my quest for Big Dummy transport. I resolved to construct a long rack tray of my own that could be converted back to a standard bike tray easily, if I so desired.

I started out with a 14 year-old Thule rack tray featuring a fork mount, mostly because I already had it on hand. However, for my purposes, the parameters of the fork mount were key to determining whether or not the project could be realized. Some older fork mounts aren't compatible with disc brakes because there isn't sufficient clearance, but fortunately mine had clearance aplenty. If it hadn't been compatible, I would have been faced with spending money, which isn't exactly my style.
The disc caliper clears the fork mount. Expense averted.
So, once the fork mount was determined to be compatible with my Big Dummy, the project was a go. Finding an appropriate extension tube was the first step in the construction phase. I had a three foot length of a two-inch diameter fence post of the sort typically used for chain link fences. As a bonus, it had even been painted a similar shade of dull black as the tray. I marked a centerline along the post with a Sharpie. If you are reading this with the intent of building your own version, this step is important to ensure that the axis of each hole that is about to be drilled is parallel with the others. You'll see where I'm going with this shortly.
Marking a center line on the extension tube.
Next, I retrieved an eight inch section of a rack tray that I had previously trimmed from another rack tray used for carrying my daughter's bike on the Big Dummy. If you don't have an extra section of tray, you have a couple of options. One option is to cut a section off the end of your existing tray and use a longer extension tube to make up the difference, but this will make it so you can't go back to a standard length tray. Another option is to try to find an old tray at a yard sale or on Craigslist. Sometimes they are cheap or free if they are old or have broken pieces. As long as the tray is not damaged, the condition of the rest of the donor rack or tray assembly doesn't matter. 
Stub of a tray and the end of the extension tube.
The next step is to mate the section of tray to the extension tube. I drilled matched holes in the tube along the centerline, and in the center of the bottom of the tray using my drill press. If you're careful you should be able to do the same with a hand held drill.
Tube and tray getting the drill press treatment.
Matched holes, ready for bolts.
It was at this point that I had to use some hardware that I actually had to buy specifically for this project. I could have pieced together some mismatched sets of bolts, washers and nuts from what I already had, but I decided to go the extra mile to attain perfectly matched aesthetic beauty. I'm sure you'll agree it contributed to a spectacular outcome.
The only expenditure for this project was $8 and change for some 5/16 x 3" bolts, flat washers, lock washers and nuts.
I placed a nut on the bolt section inside the tube for the hole nearest the end, to avoid crushing the tube when the outer nut was tightened.
After the tray section was mounted to the extension tube to form an assembly, the next task was to attach the assembly to the tray. For this, I needed some mounting holes. I used an existing hole near the end of the tray for one of the mounting holes and then drilled another at the far end of the extension tube.
Two holes in the tray will correspond with two holes in the extension tube.
I flipped the tray over to make it easier to mark the locations to drill holes along the center line of the extension tube.
After drilling holes in the extension tube, the assembly is bolted in place.
I found it helpful to test the placement of parts by fitting the bike to the rack tray along the course of the project.
An important part of this procedure is to understand how everything fits together before drilling or cutting anything. I have a couple of other longtail bikes, so I made sure that there was some extra room along the short section of tray to adjust the wheel strap. In the event that I need more adjustment that is allowed, I can always drill more holes in the extension tube to extend or shorten the total length of the modified tray. In a matter of a couple of minutes, I can also remove the assembly and use the tray to mount standard sized bikes.
Top view of extension assembly.
Bottom view of extension assembly.
I reassembled the rack on the car with the fork mount toward the rear, otherwise the extended section would have interfered with the hatchback when open. I then mounted the Big Dummy on top. It worked like a charm. The design of the extension assembly causes the rear wheel to be mounted a couple of inches higher than in a standard rack. This higher location for the rear wheel improves the clearance for the cranks and chainrings over the lower section of the tray, and provides clearance for the bottom of the front fender, both plusses.
Now that's a Big Dumb roof rack. 
Note the room for medial adjustment of the wheel strap on the extended tray section. 
After all was done, I gave the Big Dummy a good cleaning to remove the magnesium chloride and road grime accumulated over the winter. It shined up well and looks pretty good for a workhorse.
Big Dummy clean and unloaded. Even a beast of burden appreciates a day off once in a while.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Goodbye Barnes Dance, hello mayoral candidates

Orange plastic shrouds mark the end of an era.
If you've been in downtown Denver since Monday, you may have noticed that the diagonally facing crosswalk signals have been covered in orange plastic since Monday. The option for pedestrians to cross diagonally at intersections, otherwise known as the Barnes Dance after former Denver traffic engineer Henry Barnes, has gone the way of the dodo.

The Barnes Dance fell victim to the nature of its inherent geometry and disadvantageous timing. As with many of life's challenges, illumination with regard to this instance draws upon the Pythagorean theorem, which states that in a right triangle, the square of the length of the hypotenuse equals the sum of the squares of the lengths of the other two sides. Applied to the Barnes Dance, the distance across the hypotenuse (diagonal crosswalk) is greater than that of either of its sides (perpendicular crosswalks). You might say, "Okay, so Pythagoras says it is farther to cross diagonally than it is to cross perpendicularly. So what?"

Ah, but if that is your response, then you may have forgotten the "disadvantageous timing" part of the first sentence in the preceding paragraph. The timing problem arises with new standards for the average walking speed attributed to pedestrians. Apparently present day pedestrians traverse less ground per second than did pedestrians during the era in which the Barnes Dance came into being, increasing the time needed to complete a diagonal crossing, thus throwing a wrench into the timing of a three phase traffic signal cycle. Slow walkers, whatever their reason, contributed to the demise of the Barnes Dance. However you frame it, the decreased speed of pedestrians equates to a sad commentary on society.
The hypotenuse is no longer an option. Way to go, slowpokes.
In bike news, check out the answers to a bicycle issues questionnaire put to the Denver mayoral candidates by BikeDenver. If you are a Denver voter and ride a bike, it is important for you to understand where the candidates fall in relation to your concerns. Thanks to BikeDenver for this valiant effort to inform the bicyclists of Denver.
Let's encourage the next Mayor to make bicycling in Denver even better.
As a postscript, congrats to Chris at Pavement's Edge on your new longtail bikes. May they carry you and yours far and with fun.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

B-cycle mini adventure

Denver B-cycle number 365, checked out from the Cherry Creek station, was my ride for part of the afternoon.
While the ladies of our family were attending the birthday party of a newly minted five year old, not being much of a party-goer, I instead took the opportunity to make an inspection of the Denver B-cycle stations in the vicinity of Cherry Creek. Included in my circuit were the B-stations at Cherry Creek Mall, Ellsworth and Madison, 3rd and Milwaukee and 250 Columbine. I also rolled the station at the Denver Botanic Gardens into the mix, although it isn't really in Cherry Creek. I hadn't been to the B-stations in the Cherry Creek area since I rode the Tour de B-cycle in December. I'm a frequent rider of Denver B-cycle, but almost exclusively on the weekdays. I was curious as to how the system worked during the weekends, so I made some observations.
An empty station greeted me at the Denver Botanic Gardens.
Two of the five stations that I visited were empty during my early Sunday afternoon circuit. It would appear as though the B-stations at the Botanic Gardens and at Ellsworth and Madison are popular departure points, as both stations were empty. The Botanic Gardens is a focal point of the surrounding neighborhood with a lot of weekend activity. The Ellsworth and Madison station is adjacent to a large upscale apartment complex and within a residential portion of the Cherry Creek neighborhood. I was a bit surprised that the bikes were all checked out at these stations, as the day was not exceedingly warm. Perhaps the stations had been emptied Saturday or even Friday, when the weather was nicer, and had yet to be restocked.
Only one open stall at 250 Columbine.
The Cherry Creek Mall station was about half full, as was the 3rd and Milwaukee station. The 250 Columbine station was almost entirely full, with only one stall unoccupied by a bike. There didn't appear to be much in the way of appealing weekend afternoon destinations around 250 Columbine. However, there are several bars nearby, notably the Cherry Cricket. It could be that the bikes at this station might have been deposited during the previous night's entertainment hours.
It's always reassuring to see cheery daffodils in the Spring.
Plenty of people were out on bikes in the area this afternoon. I saw a number of others on B-cycles while I was riding one myself. There were plenty of weekend warriors on expensive looking road bikes, mostly along the Cherry Creek trail. I also saw quite a few people on townie bikes equipped with baskets, racks or trailers. Several were carrying some combination of groceries, small dogs or children. I would consider all of the above bicycling activities to be good signs for the city.
I caught up to this daddy/daughter combo on my way back to Cherry Creek. The little girl appeared to know the rules of the road well, and attentively followed her father's instructions. The 7th Avenue parkway is a pleasant urban bike route for families.
After the party finished, we had to burn off a little excess energy acquired from birthday cupcakes. We walked a bit, then the girls and I poked around at a B-cycle station for a little while. In all, not a bad way to spend an afternoon.
More than willing to take on a bike that outweighs her by several pounds, she falls 11 years short of the minimum age for being an eligible rider.
Mommy did a loop around the station, grinning the whole way.
We engaged in a little nautical nonsense with the apparently accident prone Captain Lefty McFiberglass.

Windy Saturday

Yesterday started out as a gusty, yet warm ride to the post office. We meandered along a familiar route through a neighborhood where houses within the non-grid oriented streets serve as windbreaks. Eventually, our course took us to East-West streets on which we faced the brunt of the wind.
Battling the wind head-on.
Riding in full on wind can be challenging. Even going downhill, the wind can negate gravitational advantage and necessitate strong pedaling just to get down. After about a mile and a half of pushing against the wind, our girl opted for the SAG wagon. I had anticipated this, and had installed my hacked rack mount on the Big Dummy.
Posing by the Big Dummy with her Electra aboard.
Enjoying a celebratory lollipop on the ride home.
After successfully reaching the post office, we decided to capitalize on the wind with a kite flying session in the park. The wind was almost too strong for the kite, which zoomed up high then down low, tempting catastrophic encounters with the ground. On frequent occasion, impacts were unavoidable, but the kite seemed to take the crashes in stride.
Daring one-handed maneuver.
She found a cozy place to conduct her flying.
The ladybug kite and flight crew.
After a time, we sought the wind-free shelter of home, but not until we had put a fair amount of flight time on the ladybug kite. It has held up well and looks to have a bright future on many more windy days.